Anyone who thinks that studying Latin might not be relevant in the 21st century should spend a few minutes talking with Madison County's Jacob Welch.
"Something like 60 percent of the English language is taken from Latin," Welch says. "Plus, you have all of the history and culture of Rome and Greece, and the philosophy and ideas that came from that time. It's fascinating stuff to learn about."
For the record, Welch is 18, a senior at Madison Central High School, and a thoroughly modern young man. But he knows his Latin.
But he is not just a top Latin scholar at Madison Central. Shortly before the school year began, he was elected president of the National Junior Classical League, a nationwide organization of junior and senior high school students dedicated to encouraging interest in and study of the language, literature and culture of ancient Rome and Greece.
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Welch was elected at the league's annual convention, held this year at the University of California, Davis. The league's membership is made up of students from some of the country's most prestigious Latin schools.
According to folks at Madison Central, Welch is the first representative of the school ever to be elected president of a nationwide student organization.
His duties as national president include helping to publicize the organization, promoting classical studies, presiding at meetings and staying in touch with student members of the league's executive committee from around the country, he said.
Between times, he keeps up with his studies, and he tells his friends about all the interesting things they can learn from studying Latin. He also visits elementary and middle schools around Madison County, encouraging students to take classes in classical subjects.
Welch began studying Latin as a high school freshman and immediately found himself attracted to just about every aspect of his classes.
"Before I took the first class, I think I saw it mainly as a gateway to learning medicine," said Welch, who is considering a medical career. "But once I got into it, I found myself getting into the grammar and history and stuff. It just grew from there."
His teacher, Estelle Bayer, said she saw immediate promise in her new student.
"He was always a chapter ahead of us," she said. "I would tell the class, 'Let's finish Chapter 23 and start on Chapter 24 next week.' Then, I would look at Jacob's folder, and he'd already be translating Chapter 24. That's the kind of student we're talking about: always involved and ahead of the game."
Welch's studies soon involved him in Junior Classical League activities in Kentucky, attending state conventions, at which students from participating schools dress in Roman garb, join competitions in Latin, and generally celebrate classical studies.
Last year, he got involved at in the national level, becoming editor of The Torch, the organization's national newsletter. Experience as editor provided the springboard for his successful campaign to become league president.
Welch counts Ovid's Metamorphoses as his favorite classical book. He says Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician and philosopher, is the classical figure he admires most. His favorite figures from mythology are Baucis and Philemon. (In case you haven't done much classical reading lately, Baucis and Philemon, an elderly couple, were eternally rewarded for showing hospitality to the gods Zeus and Hermes.)
Welch, the son of Jeff and Marcia Welch of Richmond, says he considers himself mainly a "math and science student," but he might major in Latin in college.